Captain America #612 – A Review

The Trial of Captain America part 2

Writer:  Ed Brubaker

Artist:  Butch Guice

Publisher:  Marvel

Price:  $3.99

Previously:  After the apparent murder of Steve Rogers, the former Captain America, Cap’s partner from WWII, James “Bucky” Barnes, took on Steve’s mantle and his mission.  Even now that Steve Rogers has returned from the grave, Bucky continue to wield the shield as Captain America.  But Bucky has a dark and secret past as the Winder Soldier – an assassin trained employed and mentally manipulated by the KGB to stymie U.S. efforts in the Cold War. A past that Baron Zemo has exposed to the world.  And with the media frenzy building, Steve Rogers can’t stand to see his wartime partner’s name stained anymore; he knows Bucky wasn’t acting of his own accord, and he is determined to prove it.  For now, though, it seems that Bucky Barnes run as Captain America is over:  he turns himself in…to await the trial that will decide his fate.

Ed Brubaker continues to make Captain America riveting and relevant, probably the most the character has been explored in most of his storied history.   He has been filling issues of Captain America with political debate and drama, the exact sort of things that should undergird the character of Captain America (as much as his ties to the military and espionage worlds).  If Captain America is the symbol of the country, then through him the country gets examined.  He’s the stand in as well as the ideal, the mirror the country—it’s political and military side—has to face.

Story-wise, the comic has the feel of a of a gritty crime book and isn’t a slave to the splash page.  Unlike many super hero comics, there isn’t the rush to fill the pages with action packed fight scenes, but rather the tension is cranked up and threaten to bubble over.  There is so much going on, Brubaker becomes guilty of Bendis-esque talking heads, which is almost unavoidable considering the legal and media examinations involved in the story line.

“If this is my path to redemption, I’m sure as hell earning it.” –Bucky

On the character front, Bucky has to deal with his past in a much more fundamental way as it will set the course of his future.  He has been publicly outed and has to face the consequences of his sinful past.  He had committed some atrocities yet seeks redemption.  Does he have the right to wear the uniform of Captain America and take on the honor and responsibility that goes with it?  There will always be those who will hate him and not give him the chance to show that he is a different man, but for that matter, has he been disqualified from being a hero and leader?

Bucky doesn’t just want the mantle and title, but he wants to be worthy of the responsibility of leadership and the burden of being a symbol.  It’s a tough issue to wrestle with. There are some behaviors which should “disqualify” you from the mantle of leadership. On the other hand, a you still have gifts and you are obligated to use them.

Our cultural ideas of leadership tells us that leadership is about power, prestige, and possessions.  Kingdom leadership is informal, without many official positions. Not everyone is meant to “lead” or, better said, hold office. Those who aspire to leadership, realize that the more “power” you have, the more you are called to serve.  The model of leadership we present is Jesus and yet, he led by serving. He saw needs–physical, emotional, or spiritual–met them, and THEN spoke. It was more important for him to walk alongside his disciples and pour himself into their lives—getting a towel and washing the feet of those who walked beside him—rather than isolate himself so that he could prepare sermons every week.  And through him we know redemption is possible for anyone no matter what their past.

Between Bucky and his lawyers, Steve Rodgers, the Falcon, Sin and Master Man, and all of the media scenes, Brubaker has a lot of threads to keep track of and weave together.  He is ably abetted by the photo-realistic art style of Butch Guice.  With all of the political intrigue and social commentary, this arc of Captain America continues to build organically.  It feels like an extended story arc, with a lot of history behind it, but one definitely worth reading (and going back and reading if you’ve missed any of it).

Captain America: Dead?

“Death of the Dream”

“The man who trades freedom for security does not deserve nor will he ever receive either.” –Benjamin Franklin

The events in Captain America have paralleled real world tensions from the beginning of Ed Brubaker’s run on the title. Groups such as HYDRA and AIM, with their splinter groups and cells, have the immediacy of terroristic threat. The events of late had been wearing on him, from the cosmic cube messing with his mind and history to his long time thought dead partner, Bucky’s, resurrection and ordeal as the Winter Soldier to him being forced to witness terrorism on his own soil.

Culminating the events of Civil War, Captain America #25 continues the theme of trading freedom for security. He’s tired (the man never seems to sleep) and angry and more than a little on edge causing him to be a bit more reckless. One almost gets the feeling that the Captain America we knew and loved could not exist in this climate. Once before he had abandoned the mantle of Captain America when he believed the country no longer lived up to its ideals and became Nomad, man without a country.

Captain America should be more of a lightning rod character than he is. The symbol of the United States, he should be as much the living embodiment of who we are as a country as Superman so often comes off as being. His death gives us the opportunity to re-evaluate what the American ideals are and whether or not we as a people or government are living up to them.

The hypocritical conceit of the United States was that while our founding fathers held that all men were created equal, they also held slaves. That central kind of hypocrisy affects the character of a nation; finds its way into the system of the society; finds its way into the hearts and minds of the individuals that make up the system. Becomes ingrained and systematized. Besides that, people, in the name of feeling safe, slowly see their own American Dream die. Our values slowly choke the life from us: individualism (good) at the expense of community (bad); and rampant materialism and consumerism as corporations pull government strings. We see people with little voice in their own government and have less faith in the people making the decisions for the direction of the country. It goes against the freedom that America stands for.

Steve Rogers took the experimental super soldier serum as a part of Project: Rebirth, becoming the first in what many were supposed to be. With Captain America, we see what it means to be truly free and have an example of what it means to join in God’s mission of fighting for freedom and justice. We also see his injust death at the hands of his oppressors, becoming a victim in our place (at the hands of a corrupt justice system no less) and transforms the condition of bondage. He suffers a hero’s death (though we expect a future resurrection), someone to crucify in their fear. With his life he provides a new vision, a new paradigm, to free us from the bonds of this world and its systems. With his death, he frees the oppressed from powerlessness and hopes to bring peace and healing to the super-hero as well as American community. It’s not as simple a fight, but it is one equally worth struggling for.

Granted, it’s hard to take the death of Captain America too seriously, when in the last year we’ve seen the return of his long-thought-dead partner, Bucky (as Winter Soldier), and Captain Marvel. Death has little meaning in the super hero world since the next set of writers (or the pressures of the market) may want to come along and do a new take on a character. For now, it is a great excuse for Bucky/Winter Soldier to don the Captain America uniform (as others did previous times Steve Rogers laid down the mantle of Captain America). It also wouldn’t surprise me to see a mysterious figure appear among Canada’s super-hero elite.

In the mean time, we long for the hope and example that Cap stood for.

Captain America – A Review

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Steve Epting
Publisher: Marvel Comics

“A Soldier in Winter”

Captain America has always been one of those characters difficult for writers to make interesting. A combination of Boy Scout and living legend, patriotic to a fault, and a symbol of America and all that is best about that ideal. And that is too often how he is written, as an ideal more than as a man. Only two runs on his title have captured the heart of the man as well as the ideal, Mark Waid’s run and now Ed Brubaker’s great run.

Ed Brubaker is one of those writers who has gone underappreciated. He has done crime stuff well, from Catwoman to Gotham Central, but he never quite got the due, the Brian Michael Bendis kind of attention that should be his. In Captain America, all of his writing strengths come together: part intelligence procedural coupled with non-stop action, all of which serves to flesh out the man beneath the flag.

The opening story arc, Winter Soldier, catches us up on the history of Captain America for all of those unfamiliar with him. It also introduces us to the people important in his life and foreshadow many of the events that will define Brubaker’s historic run on the book.

We forget how worldy the man under the cowl must be, having lived through a lot of history, traveling the world and speaking several languages. Steve Rogers underwent an experimental procedure and became the first (and last) super soldier, fighting for the Allies in World War II. His partner was a teen (teen sidekicks were big in the super-hero scene when Captain America was first introduced; they didn’t have those pesky child endangerment laws, I guess). However, Brubaker expands on the true nature of Bucky’s role: not just as a counter to the Hitler Youth movement, but an efficient soldier who got his hands dirty where Cap couldn’t.

The cast of characters surrounding him include Nick Fury, another World War II relic, and head of espionage agency, S.H.I.E.L.D. and Cap’s ex-girlfriend and S.H.I.E.L.D. operative, Sharon Carter. Also, we get a taste of Cap’s long history with the most tenacious of his enemies, the Red Skull.

“I was the icon. I wore the flag.” –Captain America

A real world immediacy surrounds Captain America’s current mission of fighting terrorism. Being on the front lines for so long has left him tired and angry after having suffered loss after loss. World War II comrades. His long-time partner, Bucky. The Avengers Disembled saga. All the others he couldn’t save. He carries the weight of the world on his shoulders. Now someone, or something messes with his memories of “the Day Everything Went Wrong”: his last World War II mission, where he fought Baron Zemo. The day Bucky died and Cap was sent into suspended animation until he was discovered and revived in the modern age by the Avengers. Cap is forced to re-live and re-remember that day, thus given back enough of his past to torture him. Part of the Red Skull’s plan to make him suffer before his death.

Captain America is in the line of “The Suffering Servant.” He isn’t a political messiah, although he has seen his share of battles, but a chosen servant who carries with him the weight of authority and responsibility, working in the spirit of God’s mission of justice. His is a life of constant struggle, one that by necessity forgoes any hope of a true personal life. Another hallmark of the hero’s journey is true love denied or sacrificed. Though the ultimate soldier built for war, he hasn’t let the constant battles harden him. He remains gentle and honest and kind.

Mystery and intrigue drive Captain America. Steve Epting’s art has a gritty feel that further grounds the story in a sense of the real world as well as portraying the cinematic action (and accentuates the iconic nature of Cap). All of a sudden, Captain America feels more relevant than ever.